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Men’s Basketball

Irish nearly complete comeback, but fall at home to Eagles

| Monday, December 9, 2019

After a difficult week for Notre Dame that included a 21-point road loss to Maryland and a season-ending injury for sophomore guard Robby Carmody, the Irish came up just short Saturday at home against Boston College, losing 73-72. The Irish fought their way back into the game in the second half and nearly pulled off the comeback, but a missed free throw by senior guard T.J. Gibbs with 2.6 seconds remaining finally sent the Irish (6-3, 0-2 ACC) to their second consecutive defeat.

Irish head coach Mike Brey explained he didn’t prepare his team well enough for its first home-conference matchup in light of recent events and took responsibility for Notre Dame’s slow start in the first half against the Eagles (5-5, 2-0).

Nola Wallace | The Observer

Irish senior forward John Mooney holds on to the ball during Notre Dame’s 64-62 overtime win over Toledo on Nov. 21 at Purcell Pavilion.

“I thought we played the first half kind of feeling sorry for ourselves, and I think it was my worst week as a coach here at Notre Dame, and I told our team that. Absolutely my worst week, because I didn’t think I did a very good job preparing us for Maryland, and then we come back Thursday and we’re moping a little bit after the loss, and we got [Carmody] down, and I didn’t really push at it or address it,” a regretful Brey said in his post-game press conference.

When asked if he should have been harder on the team after a blowout loss, Brey clarified.

“I’m not sure I was really plugged into the vibe enough to sense that on Thursday and didn’t really sense that until shootaround this morning,” he said. “I’m disappointed and I told our guys, ‘I have to be better for you.’”

Brey’s team struggled to execute defensively out of the gate.

One of the keys for the Irish coming into the game was slowing down guards graduate student Derryck Thornton and freshman Jay Heath, the top two scorers for Boston College this season. But the efficient shooting of the Eagles’ dynamic guards became the story of the first half, as both scored 11 points. Thornton, a graduate transfer from USC, was 5-6 from the field and drilled his one attempt from beyond the arc. Heath was 4-6 from the field and was a perfect 3-3 from downtown.

As a team, Boston College found the bottom of the net often in the first half, shooting 56% from the field and 60% from three. The Eagles also capitalized on Notre Dame’s 11 turnovers, scoring 14 points off of those turnovers. Notre Dame entered the break trailing 38-28.

In the second half, Gibbs began to find his stroke. After a scoreless game against Maryland on Wednesday, the senior guard responded with 18 second-half points to help Notre Dame cut into the deficit. Gibbs was 4-5 from the field and 3-4 from downtown in the half. Double-double machine John Mooney also helped carry the Irish in the second half, scoring 12 of his 16 points in the half. The senior forward was highly effective in the low post and got to the free throw line nine times. The ACC’s leading rebounder also grabbed nine of his 18 boards in the second half.

After a Gibbs make at the charity stripe, the Irish found themselves trailing by just five with 2:24 remaining in the game. On the next Notre Dame possession, graduate student guard Rex Pflueger lobbed a pass towards the rim for senior forward Juwan Durham, who layed it in over two defenders make the score 70-67 and bring the Purcell Pavilion crowd to its feet. Boston College then called timeout.

Out of the time out, Heath drilled a step-back three with a hand in his face to put the Eagles up six. Gibbs then made two more free throws to shrink the deficit back to four. The Irish were able to trap Boston College’s C.J. Felder in the corner off the inbound pass, with Pflueger causing a tie-up to give the ball back to Irish. Mooney then found Durham for another layup, to bring the Irish within two with 13 seconds on the clock.

After the Irish intentionally fouled Thornton, the veteran couldn’t convert on the one-and-one. Sophomore guard Dane Goodwin grabbed the rebound and found Gibbs in the open court, who was fouled at the rim with 2.6 remaining. Unfortunately for the Irish, his first attempt from the line rimmed out. After Gibbs converted on his second attempt, Heath was intentionally fouled, but he too missed the one-and-one attempt. Brey called a timeout with 1.6 left on the clock. Mooney found Goodwin at midcourt off the ensuing inbound, but his heave at the buzzer hit nothing but air and sent the Irish to a heartbreaking loss.

“I thought we made plays down the stretch to give ourselves a chance, but the ball just didn’t bounce our way in the last couple minutes,” Mooney said after the game. “We just had to get off to a better start so we weren’t playing from behind.”

Brey praised Boston College for their performance.

“I thought that the team that deserved to win the game won,” Brey said. “Boston College came out loose; they were hard to guard, shooting well. They created some tough match-ups for us at times with their quick guys out on the floor.”

Brey also spoke on the team’s mentality moving forward now that the Irish are down to just eight scholarship players on the active roster.

“Can’t bench anyone at this point, so here we go,” he said. “Time to tie your shoes and grow up a little bit, man. Night-to-night it’s going to be different. That’s who we are and all those guys are gonna have to play.”

Gibbs spoke after the game about trying to move forward after the loss.

“We’re figuring it out,” he said. “I think in the second half we got into a flow, and we just have to keep fighting. We fought until the very end today, and we just have to keep pushing and use this as a learning moment.”

Brey added his thoughts on the end of the game.

“I love how on a tough afternoon, we figured out a way to put the thing into overtime, even when we had no business being there,” Brey said. “I give our guys credit for that, but 11 turnovers at halftime, I don’t know where we were there.”

The Irish will look to respond Tuesday when they take on Detroit Mercy in a non-conference matchup. Tip off is at 7:00 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

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